Oh, You Pretty Things
Kevin Barnes is a centaur. Or at least he plays one for a few minutes onstage each night with his polymorphic pop sextet Of Montreal. Dressing as a partly nude stallion is just one way Barnes and his hallucinatory Athens, Georgia-based troupe visually accompany the tour for their ninth album, Skeletal Lamping. The group has been transitioning through Sixties psychedelic pop to libido-enriched electro-funk since 1997; its joint creativity splatters stages with carefree Mayan gods, frolicking ninjas, lascivious clergymen, and fruit orgies.
Taken out of performance context, however, there might be more to the equine homage. As a Gemini, Barnes is rife with contradictions. And steed imagery is an apt manifestation of his coltish tendencies as Of Montreal's sole songwriter. "Horses, they're almost like mythological creatures," he explains when asked about the show — as well as the ponies decorating posters and wall decals from Skeletal Lamping's merchandise-heavy release. "They have an otherworldly quality. You see an expression on their faces like they're sort of confused and out of place."
It's an expression familiar to people who have directly addressed Barnes. Offstage, the singer often comes across shy and ready to bolt. And conceptually, Barnes could be seen as a displaced creature. He spent several months in 2007 proclaiming his next work would be channeled through a black shemale named Georgie Fruit, now buried in passing on a few tracks. But through 15 abruptly segued songs (featuring multiple movements), he still bobs among personalities. "All of my thoughts come from a foreign host/Now I feel just like a ghost," he sings on "Death Is Not a Parallel Move." That sentiment is followed by the lines, "The identity I composed out of terror has become oppressive now/I must defy this dark assignment, I'm over it now." Of course, this is preceded by a song called "Pleasure Puss" and followed by tales of bisexual experimentation.
To Barnes, however, the important horseplay is done lyrically rather than metaphorically. He claims he promotes nothing more than entertainment. "I'm not fascinated with [horses] because I feel alien — well, anymore than usual," he says. "I feel comfortable on this planet.... I feel very comfortable in my skin too, though it's taken a long time to get here."
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